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Genetic diversity of red-fleshed apples (Malus)


Anthocyanins are flavonoid pigments imparting red, blue, or purple pigmentation to fruits, flowers and foliage. These compounds are powerful antioxidants in vitro, and are widely believed to contribute to human health. The fruit of the domestic apple (Malus x domestica) is a popular and important source of nutrients, and is considered one of the top ‘functional foods’—those foods that have inherent health-promoting benefits beyond basic nutritional value. The pigmentation of typical red apple fruits results from accumulation of anthocyanin in the skin. However, numerous genotypes of Malus are known that synthesize anthocyanin in additional fruit tissues including the core and cortex (flesh). Red-fleshed apple genotypes are an attractive starting point for development of novel varieties for consumption and nutraceutical use through traditional breeding and biotechnology. However, cultivar development is limited by lack of characterization of the diversity of genetic backgrounds showing this trait. We identified and cataloged red-fleshed apple genotypes from four Malus diversity collections representing over 3,000 accessions including domestic cultivars, wild species, and named hybrids. We found a striking range of flesh color intensity and pattern among accessions, including those carrying the MYB10 R 6 allele conferring ectopic expression of a key transcriptional regulator of anthocyanin biosynthesis. Although MYB10 R 6 was strongly associated with red-fleshed fruit among genotypes, this allele was neither sufficient nor required for this trait in all genotypes. Nearly all red-fleshed accessions tested could be traced back to ‘Niedzwetzkyana’, a presumed natural form of M. sieversii native to central Asia.

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United States Department of Agriculture


Canadian Clonal Genebank


Michigan State University


National Fruit Collection


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We thank Jeff Wilson (MSU Campus Planning and Administration) and Dr. Frank Telewski (MSU Department of Plant Biology and MSU Campus Planning and Administration) for assistance with locating Malus accessions within the MSU campus. We acknowledge the assistance of Tyler Harris, MSU Multicultural Apprentice Program, with fruit collection and processing and Mary Pennell (NFC Horticultural Curator). This work was supported by the Michigan Apple Commission, the Michigan Department of Agriculture (Grant No. 791N0200091), and the Education Foundation of the American Society of Plant Biologists.

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Correspondence to Steven van Nocker.

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van Nocker, S., Berry, G., Najdowski, J. et al. Genetic diversity of red-fleshed apples (Malus). Euphytica 185, 281–293 (2012).

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  • Malus
  • Anthocyanin
  • Genetic diversity
  • Fruit
  • Apple
  • Crab
  • MdMYB10
  • MYB10